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Love Canal dump site at Niagara Falls, USA


Back in the XIX century, Modeltown Development Corporation, under William T. Love, planned to construct a power canal that would connect the upper and lower levels of the Niagara River as well as open business opportunities. After securing funding support, the canal was started in 1884. Before the completion of the canal, the United States fell in to an economic depression that halted funding sources. The loss of funding and the loss of potential business support led to the down fall of Love's Company leaving only a partially dug canal left. In the 1920's the canal was bought by Hooker Chemical Company and used as a site for chemical and municipal disposal for several chemical companies and the City of Niagara Falls. This site was used as a disposal site until 1953, when it was bought by the local community and completely covered with dirt. In the late 1950's this land became the new site of over 100 homes and an elementary school. In the late 1970s, after several years of high precipitation, the chemical waste began making its way to the surface causing terrible odors and oozing waste. On August 2, 1978, Lois Gibbs, a local mother who called an election to head the Love Canal Homeowners' Association, began to rally homeowners. There was severe pollution by dioxins, which lead to grave health effects especially the high percentages of birth defects in the Love Canal area. This required all residents to be vacated and the risks to be mitigated, however the health and environmental effects had already affected much of the communities residents.

Clean-up was done by the EPA and the site was removed from the Superfund list in 2004 and determined to be usable land again. Homes near the previously evacuated area are now being bought and lived in.

Though Love Canal was officially removed from the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2004, the site is still subject to maintenance and monitoring activities (e.g. landfill cap inspections, annual groundwater monitoring).  However, new residents are dealing with the same chemicals that wreaked havoc decades ago.  In lawsuits, residents claim they were swayed to purchase homes in the area with low property values and assurances that waste was contained.  Moreover, many residents are unable to move out of the site due to financial constraints.  Spokespeople for the US EPA, NYSDEC, and city of Niagara Falls continue to claim that monitoring and containment efforts are effective.

Basic Data

NameLove Canal dump site at Niagara Falls, USA
CountryUnited States of America
ProvinceNew York
SiteNiagara Falls
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Urban development conflicts
Specific CommoditiesLand
Chemical Waste

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsThe Love Canal dump site accumulated 22,000 tons of toxic waste (total) by Hooker Chemical Company and other chemical companies. The waste consisted of 82 different chemical compounds at the landfill, including 1 human carcinogen, 11 animal carcinogens
Project Area (in hectares)81
Level of Investment (in USD)$82,668 Local, State and Federal Costs, 7.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, 400 million for total clean up (from litigation against Hooker Chemical and Superfund)
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population6000
Start Date1978
End Date2004
Company Names or State EnterprisesModeltown Development Corporation from United States of America
Hooker Chemical Company from United States of America
Relevant government actorsUnited States Environmental Protection Agency, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Health Department
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersLois Gibbs- Leader of Love Canal Parents Movement, Love Canal Homeowners Association (LCHA)

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents
OtherBirth Defects
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Specific impacts on women, Other socio-economic impacts


Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.This was one of the first environmental problems that was able to receive a lot of attention and provided a launching point for other communities to ensure the safety of their neighborhoods as well. The community was compensated and relocated. Additionally, actions were taken to mitigate the environmental effects.

Sources and Materials


L.M. Gibbs, Dying from Dioxin: a citizens' guide to reclaiming our health and rebuilding democracy, South End Press, Boston, 1995

L.M. Gibbs, Love Canal: My Story, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1981.


Love Canal Declared Clean, Ending Toxic Horror

Colgate University First Year Seminar 39: Earth Resources - The Love Canal by Kate Wolfe, December, 2000

Love Canal: A Special Report to the Governor & Legislature: April 1981

Living on Earth - Love Canal & Lois Gibbs 35 Years Later

Other Documents


Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.

Some updates to this case were provided March 30, 2018, by Saachi Kuwayama, [email protected], Masters Candidate, School for Environment & Sustainability, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Meta Information

ContributorSara Orvis, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update04/07/2018